Olympics: Hopes high for Barriga victory Saturday nightBy Artemio T. Engracia Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LONDON—There’s no rest for Mark Anthony Barriga, the little man with a big heart.
On Thursday morning, two days before he fights Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov in the boxing competitions of the 30th Olympic Games in London, Barriga and his coach Roel Velasco were back at work, plotting the Filipino boxer’s moves against yet another taller opponent.
The fight is set on Saturday, 1:45 p.m. in London, or 8:45 p.m. in Manila.
The Filipinos are not the only ones optimistic about Barriga’s meeting with Zhakypov on Saturday afternoon at the ExCel, London’s giant convention center by the Thames. Even a Cuban ring expert is picking Barriga to win.
Like Barriga, Zhakypov is a southpaw.
Barriga did light exercises and stretching at the Athletes’ Village before breakfast on Thursday and later engaged in “a few tactical workouts, based on what we know of his next opponent,” said Ed Picson, the executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (Abap).
Barriga knows Zhakypov quite well. They have sparred a few times in the past and has, in fact, bloodied his nose in one of those sessions.
Barriga has learned more about him from the tapes of previous fights, including Zhakypov’s close and controversial victory in the first round of the light-flyweight program on Tuesday and his loss to a Cuban fighter in the last world championship.
Barriga is impressed with Zhakypov. “He’s good, too, but he lacks confidence in himself,” the Filipino was quoted by a team official as saying.
“We can’t rely 100 percent on what we know of him,” Picson said. “For sure, he will adjust and that’s why Mark should also be ready to adjust.”
Velasco, a bronze medallist in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, described Zhakypov as a “headhunter” who is four inches taller than Barriga, like the Filipino’s first round victim, Italy’s Manuel Cappai.
But Velasco said the Kazakh is weak in the body and that’s where Barriga and his coach plan to attack.
Zhakypov is typical of European fighters—Kazakhstan is wedged between Central Asian and Eastern Europe—who are “weak in the belly,” said Velasco.
This was seen in his fight with France’s Jeremy Beccu in the first round, right after Barriga’s fight. Zhakypov was behind on points going into the third round and was lucky to escape with an 18-17 win over the Frenchman.
Cuban Coach Raul Liranza also chose Barriga over the Kazakh. He was impressed by the Filipino.
“Your boy can beat him,” said Liranza, a one-time Philippine team coach.
“Very good. Very strong. Good counter-puncher,” the Cuban said after watching Barriga’s fight.
Liranza was not impressed with Zhakypov, whom he described as “weak in the body.”
Liranza had coached the Philippine team for four years until politics in the local boxing scene drove him back to Cuba. He said he was willing to return to the Philippines but only if Manny Lopez, once president of Abap and now the Team Philippines’ chief of mission in London, was back at the helm.